The pessimism of 2009 and ’10 that gave way to cautious hopefulness for the next three years evidently has yielded to honest optimism if the talk on the docks of the Newport International Boat Show can be believed.
“We had our largest display ever at Newport — 15 boats,” says Dave Nolan, owner of Boston-area Beneteau dealer Cape Yachts. “I can safely say that was the best traffic and selling we’ve had there in seven years — even pre-recession.”
Nolan adds, “All seven of my salespeople are active with what we consider serious buyers. We’re feeling very confident for the first time in a long time.”
Newport Exhibition Group, producer of the Sept. 11-14 show, says attendance was up 5 percent from last year, at more than 40,000 visitors, and exhibitor space was up 11 percent.
“What I noticed was that we’re not hearing, ‘When I retire in 10 years …,’ ” says Ben Wilde, the owner of Connecticut-based Nordic Tugs dealer Wilde Yacht Sales. “We were very happy about that.”
Wilde also says his team felt so good coming out of the show that “we decided to bring more boats (four in total) to the Annapolis show.”
Another positive trend that emerged for some was the shortened time required to close a deal.
“Well, we sold a boat, a 31, sight unseen,” says Karl Skarne of Skarne Marine, the Connecticut-based North American importer for Finnish-built all-weather Sargo pilothouse boats (formerly branded Minor). “I had an appointment with a client who came to the show to see the 28. He had a Grand Banks 42 he recently sold and wanted something smaller, faster and easier to handle. He liked the Sargo 28 we had at the show so much he bought up to the 31.”
Another Connecticut dealer, Petzold’s Marine Center, which carries Sabre, Back Cove, Ocean, Regal and EdgeWater, also reported a quick sale.
“We sold a 42 Regal to a customer we met the weekend before at a showcase we held in Old Saybrook (Conn.). They owned a 37 Sea Ray they had just put a satellite dish on and came to the event with no intention of buying. But they just fell in love with the Regal,” says Bob Petzold, the dealership’s president. “They came to Newport for another look and we closed the next week. We got some great leads out of the show.”
The good stories were not hard to find on the docks.
“We sold a 32 Outrage today, which was nice,” said Larry Russo, the Boston-area Boston Whaler dealer. He says he’d been working with the buyer for about three weeks leading up to the show.
“A year ago, we were sitting here on Hull No. 1 of our new 220 Sisu. We just laid up Hull No. 28. It’s night and day from 2010,” says Bruce Perkins, sales manager for New Hampshire Down East builder Eastern Boats.
“We were very pleased with last year’s show, but the mood this year was even better,” says Brian Gray, owner and founder of Ribcraft, a Massachusetts-based builder of rigid inflatable boats. “We did a few deals at the show and a couple since getting back to the office. There’s no question that folks are again spending and focusing on new products versus pre-owned right now. The show was bigger than last year, which is always a good indicator.”
Brokers also came away upbeat.
“Newport was a great show for us,” says Ben Knowles, a young Stonington, Conn.-based broker at East Coast Yacht Sales in Portsmouth, R.I., which was exhibiting at Newport for the first time, showing an MJM 37z. “I have been busy year-round since I started [at East Coast] two years ago.”
Scott Shane, a broker at Montauk Yacht Sales on Long Island, was equally optimistic.
“Overall, the brokers and dealers were spirited and upbeat,” was his take. “While the landscape of the industry has drastically changed in the last six years, based on what I’m seeing I believe the used-boat market will continue to gather momentum due to a lack of inventory and current new-boat pricing.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.